Virtual Water Trade in the Legal Framework of the World Trade Organization (Original Research)

Document Type : academic


1 Assistant Professor, International Law Department, Faculty of Law, Centeral Tehran Branch, Islamic Azad University, Tehran, Iran

2 Associate Professor, International Law Department, Faculty of Law, University of Qom, Qom, Iran

3 M.A in International Law, Faculty of Law, University of Qom, Qom, Iran


A major part of the State’s water resources is used, in the form of "virtual water", to produce products, especially agricultural products. Today, the smart trade of virtual water is considered a way to resolve the world's water shortage crisis. This research has answered the question of what capacities does the current legal framework of the World Trade Organization (WTO) have for managing and facilitating virtual water trade? The primary hypothesis is that WTO can facilitate the smart trade of virtual water by removing trade barriers. The results of the studies indicate that only trade liberalization, regardless of the economic value of water in the production process, does not facilitate virtual water trade in line with the management of global water resources. Also, although the management of import and export of goods based on the amount of water consumed in the production process seems to violate the principle of non-discrimination in WTO, some exceptions included in the agreements of this organization can help to virtual water trade and reduce the water crisis. Using the capacities of this organization to remove agricultural subsidies that disrupt the virtual water trade and evaluating the water footprint through the creation of a labelling system are other ways to facilitate the virtual water trade.


Main Subjects

  1. - Books and book sections

    1. Bigas, Harriet. The Global Water Crisis: Addressing an Urgent Security Issue. Hamilton, Canada: UNU-INWEH, 2011-2012.
    2. Boissone de Chazournes, Laurence. Fresh Water in International Law. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.
    3. Cooley, Heather and others. "Global Water Governance in the Twenty-First Century", In: World’s Water, Vol., edited by Peter. H Gleick. Oaklad, California: Springer, 2014.
    4. Delacamara, Gonzalo, Gomez, Carlos Mario and Maestu, Josefina, “Water Trading Opportunities and Challenges in Europe”, in: Routledge Handbook of Water Economics and Institutions, edited by Burnett and others, New York: Routledge, First published, 2015.
    5. Hildering, Antoinette. International Law, Sustainable Development and Water Management. The Netherland: Eburon Academic Publishers, 2016.
    6. Temmermam, Fitzgerald. Trade in Water Under International Law: Bulk Fresh Water, Irrigation Subsidies and Virtual Water. Cheltenham/Northampton: Edward Elgar, 2017.


    - Articles

    1. Aminaadbul-ilahhamdoon, “Water Security Policies in Iraq (Strategic Perspective).” IOP Conf. Series: Journal of Physics: Conf., Series. 1294 (2019).
    2. Chapagain, A.K., A.Y. Hoekstra, and H.H.G. Savenije, “Saving Water Through Global Trade.” UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education, no. 17 (2005).
    3. De Angelis, Enrico and others, “Virtual Water Trade and Bilateral Conflicts.” IMT Lucca EIC Working, Series. 02 (2017).
    4. Brown Weiss, Edith and Lydia Slobodian, “Virtual Water, Water Scarcity and International Trade Law.” Journal of International Economic Law, no. 17 (2014).
    5. El-Sadek, Alaa, “Virtual Water: an effective mechanism for integrated Water Resources management.” Agricultural Sciences 2, no. 3 (2011).
    6. Ewing, Jackson, “Virtual water: tackling the threat to our planet’s most precious resource by Tony Allen.” Water International Journal 36, no. 7 (2011).
    7. Fitzgerald Temmerman, “Virtual water trade & international trade law.” Working Paper no. 2011/15 (2011).
    8. Hoekstre, Arjen, Y, “The relation between international trade and freshwater scarcity.” WTO Working paper, (2010).
    9. Hoekstra, A.Y. and P.Q. Hung, “Virtual Water Trade, A Quantification of Virtual Water Flows between Nations in Relation to International CROP Trade.” Virtual of Water Research Report, no. 11 (2002).
    10. Konar, C. Dalin, S. Suweis and Other, “Water for Food: The Global Virtual Water Trade Network.” Water Resources Research 47 (2011).
    11. Mark A. Cohen and Michael P. Vandenbergh, “The Potential Role of Carbon Labeling in a Green Economy.” Energy Economics 34 (2012).
    12. Qasemipour, Ehsan and Abbasi, Ali, “Virtual Water Flow and Water Footprint Assessment of an Arid Region: A Case Study of South Khorasan Province, Iran.” Water Journal 11, no. 1755 (2019).
    13. Tamea and Others, “Local and global perspectives on the virtual water trade.” Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, no. 17 (2013).
    14. Salam Hussein, Ewaid, Salwan Ali, Abed and Nadhir, Al-Ansari, “Assessment of Main Cereal Crop Trade Impacts on Water and Land Security in Iraq.” Agronomy, no. 10 (2020).
    15. Salam, Hussein and Others, “Estimation the Virtual Water Content and the Virtual Water Transfer for Iraqi Wheat.” Journal of Physics: Conference Series (2020).
    16. Stuki, Philipp, “Water Wars or Water Peace?”. PSIS Occasional Paper, no. 3 (2005).
    17. Upali, A. Amarasinghe and Stefanos, Xenarios, “Strategic Issues in Indian Irrigation: Overview of the Proceedings.” International Water Management Institute (IWMI), Series. 5 (2009).


    - Thesis

    1. Antonelli, Marta. “Water Resources, Food Security and Virtual Water ‘Trade’ in the Middle East and North African Region.” The thesis for the award of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, King’s College of London University of London, 2015.


    - Documents

    1. Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT).
    2. Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS).
    3. Agriculture Agreement (AA).
    4. Border Tax Adjustments, Report of the Working Party adopted on 2 December 1970 (L/3464), Available at: Border Tax Adjustments (GATT) (
    5. General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) 1994.
    6. National Treatment on Internal Taxation and Regulation, Available at: GATT-AI-2012-Art03 (
    7. United States- Restriction on Imports of Tuna (EEC and Netherlands v US) (Tuna/Dolphin II), GATT Doc. DS29/R.
    8. WTO Appellate Body Report, United States – Measures Concerning the Importation, Marketing and Sale of Tuna and Tuna Products (US – Tuna II), WT/ DS381/AB/R, adopted 13 June 2012.


    - Reports

    1. A Report Prepared for the Victorian Department of Primary Industries, The concept of virtual water a critical review, 2008.
    2. Managing Water under Uncertainty and Risk, the United Nation World Water Development report. 4, Vol. 1, 2012.
    3. United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Global Environment Outlook 4, Nairobi: UNEP, 2007.
    4. United Nations, The United Nations World Water Development Report, Valuing Water. UNESCO, Paris, 2021.


    - Analytical Websites

    1. Clement Marquet, “Ministerial Declaration of the Fourth World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference in Doha, 20th November 2001 (WTO Doc WT/MIN(01)/DEC/1, WTO Doc No 01-5859)”, Oxford International Organization, 2018, Availabel at: publication/ 337772194_Ministerial_Declaration_of_the_Fourth_World_Trade_Organization_Ministerial_Conference_in_Doha_20th_November_2001_WTO_Doc_WTMIN01DEC1_WTO_Doc_No_01-5859, Accessed 17 July 2022.
    2. com, “The vital importance of water”, Available at: https://www.eni. com/en-IT/low-carbon/concept-of-virtual-water.html, Accessed 9 September 2022.
    3. Neal T. Graham and others, “Future changes in the trading of Virtual Water”, 2020, Available at:, Accessed 2 September 2022.

    Web Archive, “2003 International Year of Freshwater”, n.d, Available at: TOPIC %26URL_SECTION%3D201.html, Accessed 16 July 2022.